Read If I Should Die Online

Authors: Allison Brennan

If I Should Die (3 page)

He was practically a kid. Sean was surprised that he was so young—he might have been eighteen, but Sean suspected younger. Clean-cut, sandy blond hair, and pale blue eyes that looked both angry and scared shitless. He reminded Sean of himself when he was a teenager, shortly after his parents died. He’d been wild, angry, and felt abandoned—determined that if he was bad enough, his brother and legal guardian Duke would wash his hands of him. His brother never had, and Sean had finally overcome his anger and deep sadness.

“My name’s Sean Rogan. I can help you, but you need to own up to your actions.”

“Fuck you.”

Sean would have said the same thing when he was a teenager. Probably had.

“You’re not leaving here; I’m not letting you. We can dance around all morning, or you can make this easy.”

Sean looked from the kid’s eyes to his hands, assessing if he had a weapon or was going to bolt. Sean hadn’t wanted to draw his gun on an unarmed kid, but he didn’t know whether or not the kid was carrying.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

“That’s why you have a fucking gun on me?”

“We’re going back to the Hendricksons’.”

The kid was trying hard not to shake, but Sean saw the telltale signs of fear. He didn’t want to face the Hendricksons anymore than the police.

“You don’t want them to know you’re the one who’s been destroying their property?” Sean said. “I get that. Believe me, I did some dumb-ass things when I was your age.”

The kid snorted.

“Even worse than arson.”

That got the kid interested. Sean didn’t elaborate, but said, “We’ll work this out, okay? If you’re honest with me, I promise, I’ll help make this right.”

The kid’s face changed, from caution to dark sadness. “You can’t,” he said quietly, looking down.

“You don’t know me, you have no reason to trust me, but I mean what I say.”

Sean mistook the downcast eyes as shame or consideration, he realized, when the kid bolted like a rabbit along the edge of the logging road.

He fired his gun into a nearby tree, hoping the sound would make the kid stop. It didn’t.

Sean went after him. Faster, he quickly caught up and was about to tackle him when the kid turned sharply right, off the road. Sean followed, picking up speed, about to tackle the kid, when he veered again to the left. Sean took two more steps forward as he turned, and the ground gave way with a startling
crunch
.

His foot broke through brittle wood. A sharp cracking sound cut through the forest. Sean was falling, the sensation startling him completely, though his reflexes had him reaching for something to stop his descent. Wood and dirt slipped through his fingers. He continued to fall, shouting for help even as the daylight disappeared and he plunged into darkness.

I’m going to die
.

As he thought of his death, he thought of Lucy, and then he hit the bottom of the narrow pit, his left arm twisting painfully beneath him. He cried out, his body writhing, and an excruciatingly sharp pain hit him in the thigh. His head ached and he couldn’t see. The only thing he heard was ringing between his ears.

But then faintly, from seemingly down a long tunnel, a young man’s voice said, “I’m sorry. I had no choice.”

And then silence and darkness blocked out everything.

TWO

When I was ten, I wanted to kill my brother
.

I pushed him off the roof because I caught him searching my room for money. I was half his size and five years younger. I may have been born with a vagina, but I’ve always had more balls than he ever did
.

He only broke his arm. I went down to the front yard and broke his fingers for good measure. He’s lucky I didn’t cut off his hand like they do to thieves in some countries
.

When I turned fifteen, my daddy’s best friend tried to force me to suck his dick. I shot him in the balls
.

I don’t suck dicks
.

Daddy took care of that problem. I didn’t kill the prick, but he’s dead
.

Amen
.

Before he got himself killed, Daddy always warned me that my temper would get me in trouble. I listened. Common sense taught me I had to control the Amazon inside. Can’t push my brother off the roof because he’s family, and blood is all we can count on. Can’t shoot someone in the balls because it’s messy, and messes are hard to clean up
.

I hate messes. Yet time and time again, I’m forced to clean up other people’s shit. I never forget who created the problem in the first place. The threat of punishment keeps people in line. Revenge is a dish best served cold? I say revenge tastes good any way you can get it
.

My oldest brother calls me a monster, but I prefer Amazon. A mythological race of warrior women stronger, better, smarter than everyone else. And my temper has served me well, when necessary. No one screws with me, that’s for sure
.

Returning to Spruce Lake after all these years was the last thing I wanted to do. It felt like being kicked back to the street turning tricks as a twenty-dollar whore after pulling in two hundred bucks an hour as a call girl. The saying that when you want something done right, do it yourself pounded in my head, taunting me. If I’d just had the damn Hendrickson property burned to the ground last year, I’d never have to step foot in St. Lawrence County again
.

Yet here I was. Waiting at the curb of the tiny airport for my driver, who was late
.

It wasn’t that there was anything particularly wrong with my hometown, other than I hated every square mile of the pit, but I’d grown into a city girl with city girl instincts. If Spruce Lake wasn’t essential, I would have simply ignored the situation and let the good old boys handle the problem, not caring whether they got themselves arrested or killed. But not only was that wretched piece of mountain important for my business, it was critical at this point in time
.

My reluctance to return was somewhat due to some old grievances related to my last visit. But when had
I ever let a threat stop me? I would face any problems head-on, like I did everything else in life
.

If I hadn’t left Spruce Lake, I would never have met my husband, now deceased and burning in Hell, thanks to me. I used everything Herve taught me, used everything he had—his knowledge, his money, his life
.

If I hadn’t left, I would never have learned more than my brother about the business. I wouldn’t be feared and worshipped, and I would never have the power to run such a vast operation from afar
.

But part of leadership was punishing the weak, and my people were acting like a bunch of fucking hillbillies. I didn’t even want to take ownership of the motley crew. Not a clearheaded, forward-thinking brain among any of them
.

Maybe I didn’t hate my hometown, I’d just out-grown it. I would have been happy to have a house here to relax and keep my eyes on things, but business in the city was too intense. And about to get busier
.

If only I could put an end to that resort. If I could control the damage from the arson fire. If only the Hendricksons had postponed their plans until next summer, I wouldn’t have to resort to any extreme measures
.

Another thing my daddy always told me: avoid murder unless there’s no other choice. I haven’t always followed that advice, but I always had a reason to kill, damn straight
.

My ride finally drove up, thirteen minutes late. I probably wouldn’t have shot him if he were later. It would have been just one more mess to clean up
.

But he didn’t have to know that. Fear would keep him in line
.

THREE

Lucy accepted the water from Annie Lynd and greedily guzzled the sixteen ounces. Her throat was raw from the smoke, and soot covered her skin and hair. She watched as the Fire and Rescue team did their job of extinguishing the fire and checking for hot spots.

“The fire’s out,” Tim said as he approached, taking a water bottle from Annie. “The kitchen’s a total loss.” He kicked a metal chair and it skidded across the wood porch.

Annie spoke timidly. “We can use the kitchen in Joe’s house until—”

Tim cut her off. “How can we open at all? What if we had guests here when that fire started? What if someone got hurt?” He turned to Lucy, fury and helplessness in his eyes. “Have you heard from Sean?”

She shook her head. It had been nearly an hour, and she’d been trying to reach him for the last ten minutes.

“Unless we find the asshole behind the vandalism and fire and put him in prison, this is just going to continue,” Tim said. “I’m not putting my guests at risk. I’ll just—I don’t know.” Collapsing on the porch swing, he glanced at Annie. “Sorry I snapped,” he said before burying his head in his hands.

Lucy pulled out her cell phone. Sean had set up GPS tracking so they would be able to find each other any time—after a couple of harrowing situations, Lucy didn’t object. He’d set it up so no one else could track her phone, only the principals at Rogan-Caruso-Kincaid, his security company.

His phone was sending out a strong, steady signal nearly three miles away. She frowned and tried him a second time through the walkie-talkie feature. No answer. Maybe there was too much interference, though she didn’t think she’d be receiving his GPS signal if there were.

She said to Tim, “We need to find Sean. He’s been stationary for at least the last twenty minutes. Do you have two more quads?”

Tim shook his head. “The arsonist took one, Sean the other.” He looked at her, concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“He’s not answering my page.”

“Where is he?”

She showed him the map on her phone.

“That’s Travers Peak, near the Kelley Mine,” he said. “We can drive there—it’s accessible through an old logging road off the highway. I’ll get my truck.”

“I’m going to grab a first aid kit,” Lucy told him. “I’ll meet you back here.”

Annie called after her, “I’ll put together food and water in case you need it.”

Lucy ran back to the cabin, her lungs still burning from helping put out the fire. The police hadn’t arrived yet, but Spruce Lake was so small it didn’t warrant a police force or even a substation. Tim had reported the crime to the sheriff’s office in Canton. They were sending an investigator and she wanted to be here to talk to him. But first she had to find Sean.

Lucy didn’t tell Tim he should have brought the police into this situation sooner, because he now understood his mistake. Maybe they could have prevented this expensive attack. The good news was no one was hurt, the fire hadn’t spread to the rest of the lodge, and there was another kitchen that could be used. But if she and Sean couldn’t find the culprit, it was clear by Tim’s reaction that he wasn’t opening the resort as scheduled on Memorial Day weekend, a real shame because Tim and Adam cared so much about creating a viable economy for the dying town. She hoped Sean had some idea who was behind this after his pursuit.

After packing a duffel bag with emergency supplies she ran back to the lodge, where Tim was waiting in his truck.

“I still can’t reach Sean,” Lucy said, as she climbed in.

“Are you getting his GPS signal?”

“It hasn’t moved.”

Lucy couldn’t dismiss her worry. It wasn’t like Sean to not check in—not when doing something like this. If he was moving, she wouldn’t be as concerned, but he’d been driving an ATV over unfamiliar terrain pursuing an unknown arsonist who might have a gun. Sean was smart, but he wasn’t invincible.

“Ever since the sabotage began, I’ve been trying to figure out who would do this,” Tim said as he drove down the private road. “Maybe I was wrong—maybe it isn’t someone who doesn’t want tourists. Up until now, he only went after small stuff, easily fixable. Disabling my truck. Stealing supplies during construction—I started ordering twice what I needed. It’s not about the money. I have more money than I know what to do with. It’s that this resort will be good for the town. I’ve done all the comparables; I know it’ll work.”

“Arson is a big step up from theft and vandalism.”

“That’s why I’m wondering if it’s personal. Maybe someone hates me. I just can’t figure out why. I wasn’t raised in Spruce Lake. I don’t know anyone.”

“Adam does.”

“He left five years ago, when he went to college. I can’t imagine someone would hold a grudge that long.”

Five years was nothing for someone dead set on revenge. “We need to talk to him,” Lucy said.

Tim turned off the road onto a two-lane highway. Two miles north was the main road into the town of Spruce Lake, but Tim turned south. “The logging road is four miles down the highway.”

When Tim turned onto the logging road, he slowed down as the truck bounced over rocks, branches, and potholes. Lucy spotted an ATV partly hidden in the trees, about twenty feet down from the logging entrance. “Stop! Is that your ATV?” she gestured.

Lucy barely waited until Tim braked. She jumped out and ran into the woods. It was definitely the yellow Raptor that Sean had been driving, parked between two trees. The keys were in the ignition.

Lucy glanced at the GPS on her phone. Sean’s cell phone was transmitting half a mile directly southwest of their location. He could have lost his phone while pursuing the arsonist, but that didn’t explain where he was now.

Tim caught up with Lucy and checked the gas gauge. “It still has fuel.” He held his hand over the engine, then touched it. “Warm, not hot.”

Lucy looked around the woods for a sign of the second ATV. Not only was it not within sight, but there was only one set of tracks. It was unlikely that Sean would have pursued someone on foot then just left the ATV here—or would he?

Tim ran down to the highway, then across it. She didn’t see anything that gave her a clue as to what happened to Sean. She walked a wider circle, still picking up no signs that there was more than one rider. She followed depressions in the mulch that led back to the logging road, forty feet from Tim’s truck, then ended at the packed gravel and dirt road. She knelt. It was nearly impossible to make out tire impressions, but gouges from taking off too fast clearly came from a vehicle wider than an ATV. Several drops of fresh oil stained the gravel near where the tracks stopped.

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